Author Archives: Erin Holmes

About Erin Holmes

Erin Holmes is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina and a fellow at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. She is currently working on a dissertation titled “Within the House of Bondage: Constructing and Negotiating the Plantation Landscape in the British Atlantic World, 1670–1820.” Erin is one of the winners of the 2016 AHA Today Blog Contest and will be blogging about how she “reads” buildings and plantation landscapes across Virginia, South Carolina, and Barbados as historical documents. You can follow Erin on Instagram where she regularly posts about her travels and research.

Historical Hat-Trick: Using Documents, Architecture, and Archaeology at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

This is the final post in a series by Erin Holmes, one of this year’s AHA Today blog contest winners. Her posts “read” buildings and plantation landscapes across Virginia, South Carolina, and Barbados as historical documents. Previous Posts include: Visiting the Past and the Places in Between: Buildings and Landscapes as Historical DocumentsChange over Time Written in the Historic Architecture of Barbadosand The Other Drayton Hall: South Carolina Plantation Architecture in the Documentary Record.

The Other Drayton Hall: South Carolina Plantation Architecture in the Documentary Record

In 1861, former South Carolina governor William Bull burned down his house because he was worried that the Yankees might get it. In studying Barbados, the American South, and the Greater Caribbean, I’ve become familiar with the ways the environment slowly chips away at the things that humans construct. Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, termites, encroaching vines, and the simple decay of organic matter often make investigating the material past difficult. In their own way, however, human beings are more destructive—the house that Bull burned down had stood in that spot for more than 130 years.

Change over Time Written in the Historic Architecture of Barbados

Typical historical research is not sweaty business. In fact, as I began this, I was shivering in the reading room of the Barbados National Archives—an airy, light-filled space inside a 19th-century leper hospital with gorgeous pine floors stained the color of Barbadian mahogany. In contrast to days spent in the archives, fieldwork can come with heat, humidity, and lots of dirt depending on the site. Visiting a manicured historical site that has to conform to visitor expectations about accessibility, for example, is generally less hot, humid, or dirty, whereas pulling off the road to climb around a derelict building can evoke one’s inner Indiana Jones.

Visiting the Past and the Places in Between: Buildings and Landscapes as Historical Documents

In 1953, L.P. Hartley wrote that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Historians and lay readers alike are familiar with the idea that the past is a different place, but often lose sight of the word “place” in that discussion. Like any other place, we can travel to the past. Most often, we do this through the written word. We read primary sources that introduce us to foreign cultures and practices that once existed in the very location (sometimes down to the exact longitude and latitude) we do today, albeit in a place—a historical context encompassing geography, culture, and more—that would be utterly alien.